Wendy’s World: WSP’s Favorite Indie Bookstores in Chicago
The news lately has been stressful (impending Coronavirus pandemic, the 24-7 news cycle and political contests) and I find that “sheltering in place” has taken on a new meaning. We’re turning our attention to self-care and calm. We’re thinking about what we can do at home (hello “social distancing”) to find relaxation and heighten our experience. For me, an afternoon outing to an indie bookstore — perusing and bringing home cookbooks from niche authors and publishers — is an antidote to stagnation. Bookstores let me armchair travel o the ends of the earth — without ever leaving home.
Yes, it’s true that in Chicago we have big box retail stores where shelves of cookbooks can be found. We also have everything at our fingertips online. What these two options miss for me is the thrill of the hunt and curation.
At these great Indie bookstores, you have full access to carefully pre-selected titles. The cookbook selection offers an insight into a particular “niche vibe” based on the community they serve and that’s why I love them.
Here are some of my favorite indie “haunts” for finding cookbook gems.
Women and Children First
Their tagline is “we are as political as we are literary”. Women and Children First is in Andersonville and is known as one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country. According to their site, they stock over 30,000 books by and about women. I’ve loved this bookstore since it started back in 1970 on a corner in Lincoln Park. Today I go there for cookbooks by women and their special diet section is amazing.
The great thing about Unabridged is that it really focuses on staff’s hand-written personal recommendations. You notice this as soon as you walk into the store and as you walk into the second room where the cookbooks start. Before walking in, you might not have known you needed the book “Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta”. You might not know you needed a book entitled “Infused, Adventures in Tea” but when you physically open the book and read the first paragraph, you are transported “From the Shire Highlands of Malawi, across the foothills of the Himalayas, to hidden gardens of the Wuy Shan, China. I make my way across the world, hunting for the most extraordinary tea, the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Beyond tea, I seek out rare herbs and flowers, from the pale Marcona almond blossom in Spain to rust-red rooibos of the semi-arid deserts of the South African Cederberg.” I can carry this book home and take an imaginary flying carpet ride around the world.
57th Street Bookstore
Hyde Park, near University of Chicago, is a wonderful neighborhood of indie bookstores. My favorite for eclectic ethnic cookbooks is the 57th Street Bookstore. While the selection for literature is larger, the curated cookbook selections on especially Mideastern and Persian cuisine is outstanding. I always find books here that I’ve never seen anyplace else.
Quimby’s on North Avenue in Wicker Park specializes in the unusual whether cookbooks, small press zines, or fiction. There are lots of independently produced zines here as well as serving as meeting place for Zine Club Chicago. The April meeting (April 21 at 7:00 PM), for instance, features Sarah Becan who is the creator of “I Think you’re Sauceome” which is a “food-centric autobiographical webcomic”. Her work has also appeared in Saveur Magazine, Eater.com, and the Chicago Reader. Personally, I first saw Becan’s work as the illustrator for the cookbook “The Adventures of Fat Rice ”. There’s always something surprising at Quimby’s that I’ve never experienced before.
Open Books is a huge used bookstore in the West Loop. Here I can often find local cookbooks from organizations as well as vintage cookbooks like “Thoughts for Buffet” and “The Settlement Cookbook”. So many of our special event clients are requesting “comfort” foods at their otherwise luxury events. I love to comb through cookbooks from past eras to gather inspiration and Open Books is a great and economical place to browse and buy. Additionally, Open Books spearheads a lot of educational outreach and coordinates volunteers to work at schools throughout the city.
Not only do you get good books here but you feel good about supporting an Indie Not for Profit Business that also happens to be a wonderful general bookstore and storehouse of fantastic cookbooks. Here’s to making more of your home time while the world settles down! W